Arsenal are a better side without Jack Wilshere in the team than with him. The statistics are out, and they prove that this is, irrefutably, the case. That's a point of view that's starting to get a public airing, and the problem with it is obvious: these statistics are invariably nonsense. Big players are frequently rested for easy games, and the quality of opposition isn't taken into account. There are usually enough caveats to render the numbers useless, especially so when the difference is as minor as Jack Wilshere's - they win 55 percent of games with him and 52 percent without.
However, thanks to his injury-proneness, we've been able to make other observations. Arsenal's best performance of the season, against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, was the first sign - at the time written off as a coincidence. Nobody gave Arsenal a chance without their best midfielder, and yet Tomas Rosicky proved a more than capable stand-in as the Gunners pulled off an incredible 2-0 victory at the home of what was probably, on form, the best team in the world.
Reading, Swansea and West Bromwich Albion aren't the most difficult opponents Arsenal will come up against, but away trips to the latter two were still a difficult prospect, and yet the Gunners won all three on the trot with an ease that seemed to have abandoned them all season. Yet again, Wilshere was absent for all three. The final game against Norwich saw him return, and Arsenal fall behind. Upon being replaced on the pitch, they burst into life and emerged with a 3-1 win.
Of course, this is far from conclusive. The sample size is small, Wilshere was clearly unfit against Norwich, and nobody could doubt that he is an excellent player who should easily be getting into this Arsenal side, but there is little margin for error in an incredibly tight run-in, and there is a logic behind why this apparent paradox should be true.
At present, for all his talent, Wilshere is a flawed player in that he possesses, in his strengths and weaknesses, an imbalance that Arsenal do not seem able to account for. With none of their strikers particularly prolific or a colossal goal threat, it's a risk to play Wilshere behind the striker due to his poor record for goals and assists. Yet for an indirect player, he is not exactly suited to play in a pivot either, where his mobility and dynamism can be lost and his defensive weaknesses exacerbated by Arsenal's lack of a proper holding midfielder. It's no coincidence that this problem never manifested itself while Robin van Persie and Alex Song were around. Of course, Van Persie massively improved Arsenal's team, but there was never the sense that Wilshere could be lost on the pitch.
Wilshere has shown enough that he is probably good enough to, if not quite build a team around him, at least make sacrifices to accomodate him. The relatively rigid 4-2-3-1 Arsenal have deployed this season, with players generally sticking solidly to positions and roles, appears to be a system in which Wilshere can't operate effectively. In the summer, they will be much improved if they can sign a midfielder who will take either some of the defensive or goalscoring burden away from him. But that's not an option now, and Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton are all lurking and waiting for Arsenal to slip up.
It would be a brave move by Arsene Wenger, and one that a manager in charge of a team like Arsenal should never have to consider in order to secure a measly fourth-placed finish, but by the simple logic of picking players on form, could anyone seriously argue that Wilshere is playing at a higher level than Rosicky at present? Looking at his performance on the pitch, only a devout conspiracy theorist would suggest that Wenger was being at all dishonest in his assertion that he was rushed back from injury. But don't be surprised to see that same excuse used in two weeks' time when Wilshere's being taken off in the 60th minute again, with Arsenal trailing and about to mount another comeback.